From Iceland — Some Like It Rockabilly: Meet Reykjavík's 1950s Couple

Some Like It Rockabilly: Meet Reykjavík’s 1950s Couple

Published August 10, 2015

Some Like It Rockabilly: Meet Reykjavík’s 1950s Couple
Hannah Jane Cohen
Photo by
Anna Domnick

Smutty Smith and Katrín Rósa Stefánsdóttir’s flat is covered with photos. In addition to a wall cluttered with Elvis memorabilia and concert shots of Smutty with a plethora of legendary musicians, their family photos are particularly eye-catching.

In black and white, Katrín, Smutty, and their two sons gaze morosely at the camera. “We always try to do family pictures in the old-school style, where no one smiles,” Katrín laughs, in stark contrast to her deadpan likeness in the photo. “I was so happy that day because my sons were getting quite bored, so they looked perfect!”

Their family photos aren’t the only nod to the past, though. Their home is covered in 1950s Americana items, with Sailor Jerry pin-ups on the walls. It feels like a time capsule, much like Katrín and Smutty themselves. The two have become known around Reykjavík as “the Rockabilly couple” thanks to their vintage get-ups.

Katrín answered the door wearing a bright floral dress, her flaming red hair in perfect victory rolls. With expertly applied red lipstick, she could easily be an extra on ‘I Love Lucy’. Smutty donned a tight punk t-shirt with even tighter black pants. He completed the look with a Marlon Brando canvas cap delicately placed on his greased-up, dyed-black hair.

They look like they’re straight out of a Technicolor movie, but they aren’t dressed up for any special occasion. They assure me that these are actually casual looks for both of them. In fact, the two dress like this every day. Both Smutty and Katrín are obsessed with the rockabilly aesthetic, they explain, and try to emulate it in every aspect of their lives.

“It all starts with music,” Katrín tells me about their aesthetic. “Gene Vincent, Charlie Feathers, Vince Tailor—our children Charlie and Vincent are actually named after them.”

Smutty continues: “Rockabilly is a mixture of black delta Mississippi Memphis blues and country western.” It’s clear he’s been asked this question millions of times before. “All Elvis did was to take an old black song and speed it up,” he says, with a laugh. “Oh, and he was a white guy.”

Although it started as a musical genre, the term has now become an umbrella label for anything relating to the 1940s and 50s American aesthetic—a mantra title for a global subculture of individuals that idolise the post-war years.

Can’t help falling in love

“I went in my goth wear to this rockabilly night and the next day I just threw all my clothes away and started anew.”

Naturally, Katrín and Smutty haven’t always been rockabilly. “I was a little goth girl,” Katrín reminisces, “but I thought [the rockabilly-ers] were so glamorous,” she smiles, a little embarrassed. “I went in my goth wear to this rockabilly night and the next day I just threw all my clothes away and started anew.” That was eleven years ago.

Smutty was a Teddy Boy in 1970s England. “Teddy Boys were postwar kids that took on the Edwardian look—a cross between Jack the Ripper and funeral directors mixed in with a Mississippi gambler,” he explains. Chantilly lace, drainpipe trousers, velvet collars, and long jackets are characteristic of the style, as are greasedup quiffs. Teddy Boys were the rebels of the working class; they drove hot rods, got tattoos, and listened to rock and roll.

Moving from Essex to New York City at age 17, the rocker was already covered in tattoos, which was quite rare at the time. “People really freaked out,” he says with a cheeky grin. “I looked like a girl and I had tattoos.”

A DJ and bassist now, he raises his eyebrows when asked how he’s changed since those early years. “I haven’t evolved at all!” he says with a shrug. “I’ve stayed and looked pretty much the same.” Luckily, his job allows for the sort of over-thetop outfits that he’s fond of.

Katrín works at a kindergarten. “Kindergarten is not the place to dress up,” she says, laughing. Although she has to wear more conservative clothing to work— jeans, black trousers—Katrín likes to add little rockabilly touches with stripy sailor shirts and bandanas. Her vibrant hair gets enough of a reaction from the children. “The kids actually call me Ariel,” she says, grinning.

Both describe their style aesthetic easily. “Forties and fifties retro-Americana,” Katrín answers, while Smutty shrugs. “Still a Teddy Boy inside.”

The Reykjavík Grapevine_Smutty and Kate_close up

Smutty has been designing all of his own clothes for the last thirty years and likes adding little garish touches. His favourite piece is a chalk-stripe Teddy Boy suit with burgundy velvet on the collar and cuffs, lined with a bright Japanese koi tattoo print. “Very Johnny Depp,” he says, rolling his eyes.

Katrín takes a black and white fitted A-line dress with a sweetheart neckline out of her closet, showing me her favourite piece. It’s stunning—like something Madeleine or Judy would wear in ‘Vertigo’. In contrast to this finery, she then pulls out a worn pair of high-waisted thick blue jeans. They are absolutely unlike anything you could find in stores nowadays. With strong azure-blue denim, the pants are more reminiscent of Rosie the Riveter than Kim Novak. It’s clear Katrín doesn’t discriminate in her love of the fifties.

The couple are adamant that they do not fit into the typical Icelandic fashion mould. “Icelandic women like fashion,” Katrín says. “They love the eighties, but they also like very plain clothes. Minimalism.”

Smutty is less polite. “It’s shit,” he says of Icelandic fashion. “The woman here are the worst dressed I’ve ever seen. It’s this Cyndi Lauper and Boy George look with the capes and the scarves and the baggy trousers,” he shudders. “Men go to weddings dressed in 66 North,” he says, his expression betraying how appalling he finds this. “They go to the movies dressed in fucking skiwear. Skiwear is for skiing, not for going to the movies.”

Mystery train

At the same time, the allure of and access to rockabilly is growing. There’s the vintage-style store Kjólar & Konfekt on Laugavegur, which sells rockabilly brands like Bernie Dexter and Stop Staring, and Smutty says the downtown barbershops have also just started selling two different types of American hair grease.

In the last few years, what has been traditionally been niche is starting to bubble up to the mainstream. “Now I’m getting calls from young girls,” Smutty says, somewhat incredulously. “They’re like, ‘We’re doing a rockabilly theme— can you DJ? Can you tell us what clothes to wear?’”

Katrín and Smutty have also found an unusual outlet for their formally underground hobby. “We’ve been hired as a couple to dress all the girls and guys for a wedding—to do all their hair rockabilly, and play music. It’s become quite trendy.”

The University of Iceland has also sprouted up clubs that swing dance and jive. Smutty holds rockabilly nights every month—the next one is July 31 at Lebowski—and they’ve been growing in popularity.

Even so, the couple still gets stopped or stared at when walking the street. It doesn’t bother them, though. They’ve been within the alternative scene for so long that Katrín says she barely notices when people gawk.

They know that they are unusual. “People say, ‘You’ve still got grease in your hair—you’re fifty. You’re still getting tattoos—when are you gonna grow up?’” Smutty grins. “When Keith Richards stops playing music.”

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